Repair experts say it’s usually the nonmoving parts of the recliner that get damaged or broken most often. So inspect the underside of the chair (or, if that’s not possible, ask to view photos, videos, or sample “cutaways” from the manufacturer). You want to see heavy-duty screws, not dinky ones or, worse, plastic fasteners. Don’t be fooled by a vague description like “all-wood construction,” which may be code for low-quality pressboard — too soft to withstand the back-and-forth motion of a recliner. Get the salesperson to clarify, and actually look at the bones: Hardwood, like birch or poplar, is superior, but be prepared to spend about $1,000 or maybe more. A decent second choice is plywood, starting at a low $300. Finally, with any recliner, check the manufacturer’s guarantee and opt for one that spans at least three years.
Sit on It!
Recliners are like shoes — people choose them based on their looks, and then suffer if they’re not comfortable enough. When you’re out there shopping, have family members who’ll spend the most time in the chair sit in it for five minutes or more. Ask yourself: Do my feet touch the floor when the back is upright? Does the headrest support my head and neck? How’s the cushioning? Inspect the seat and back for bumpy parts. And look for foam which has a density rate of 1.9 or higher (most furniture cushions range from 0.9 to 2.5), which will ensure that it keeps its shape longer. Test the chair’s footrest several times to make sure it’s easy to maneuver. Listen for squeaks, which may be telling signs for loose parts or improper alignment.
Also new: wall-saver recliners, which will need only about six inches of space between chair and wall, compared to a foot or more needed for larger traditional versions (though the price is about the same).
Then again, there are specialty chairs, such as massage and electric recliners. The former can get quite expensive (from $800 to $5,000), and the latter are designed for people with mobility issues. Regardless of what type you pick, check that there’s no more than a five-inch gap between the seat and the open leg rest; otherwise, children or pets can get caught and injured. Same goes for the lever — make sure tiny hands (or your own fingers) can’t get stuck inside or pinched.